What’s Hot (And What’s Not) in the World of Freelancing in 2016

by Tom Ewer 5 Minutes

A burning ring of fire.In a highly competitive world, freelancers are supposed to be on top of their brief. Not only do you have to know what’s new and cool in your own sector, you have to understand the way that the world of freelancing itself is trending.

So what is hot, and what’s not, in the world of freelancing in 2016?

There have been all sorts of attempts at crystal ball gazing recently – so here’s our ultimate guide to what the future holds, and you don’t even have to cross our palms with silver. Let’s have a look!

1. Freelancing

Yes, freelancing per se is very, very hot. Experts conclude that the sector is growing, with companies citing a need for flexibility and new business developments as key reasons. This research also found that most freelancers are happy, and want to remain off the employee register.

In fact, an amazing 53 million Americans are freelancing according to this survey, thanks to the ongoing trend of companies downsizing and outsourcing workers, and employees seeking a better work and lifestyle balance.

Why is this happening? Well, the nine-to-five is losing appeal, given the rise of flexible schedules that look to carve the ultimate gain from employees. Companies are also cutting staff benefits to the bone, so it’s small wonder that people are turning to solutions that help take control of the situation. Freelancing is clearly something that suits both sides, and that’s a trend we expect to continue.

2. The Rise of the Best

In terms of the ‘hot skills’ out there, several trends emerge. The Harvard Business Review (HBR) has defined a phenomenon it calls the ‘Rise of the Supertemp’, and even professionals who have traditionally been on the payroll – such as attorneys, chief financial officers (CFOs), CEOs, and consultants – are working independently.

Why is this happening? The HBR cites shifting economic conditions, corporate downsizing, and employee dissatisfaction. It also highlights the emergence of a ‘free agent nation’, in which top managers and professionals are choosing to go freelance.

As a result, big corporations now trust such people to do mission-critical work that would in the past have been undertaken by in-house staff. This means any freelancers with past managerial experience now have a great leveraging opportunity.

3. New Intermediaries

New platforms are also springing up to match companies with high-quality freelance talent – HBR talks of new intermediaries creating a market for marquee talent to augment existing online resources, such as global freelance marketplaces Guru and Upwork, and remote call center specialist LiveOps.

InnoCentive is one such new intermediary, connecting people seeking solutions with potential solvers – its clients include huge businesses, such as pharmaceutical company Roche. Another company, CastingWords, produces transcriptions of audio files similar to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk micro-employment website.

Companies – including another pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer – are also reported to be offloading repetitive tasks such as data entry to free up skilled, in-house workers.

4. Skill and Location Trends

Elance’s skill trends map reveals that the USA is the place to be if you’re a freelancer – over 2.5 million jobs in total have originated here compared to just over 350,000 in the UK, and far less in most other parts of the world: just 138 in Belarus, for example.

When you look at the sectors that are hot, programming is clearly the skill to have – with 1.6 million total jobs over the quarter. However, the quarterly figures are worryingly 6% down for everything except Ruby programming, which is growing at 2%. Graphic design, marketing, and Photoshop jobs are also dropping in number, CSS jobs are down 7%, and iOS jobs have slid even further at a hefty 10% down.

The sectors that are bucking this trend and growing in job numbers include writing, internet marketing, translation, computer graphics, video editing, and e-commerce. Transcription is up a full 7%, typing is up 4%, and 3D modelling is up 5%. However, the hottest growth is in scriptwriting jobs, which are up a mind-boggling 43%, though the total is a modest 21,800.

For up-to-date information on what’s trending, it’s worth looking at O*NET – a US Department of Labor, Employment, and Training Administration database – the site has information and trends on over 900 jobs (see this page on writing as an example).

5. Flexibility

While micro-specialization and ‘atomized work’ – i.e. work divided into small chunks among many contractors – is seen as one coming trend, pundits such as Contently are also hailing a contrary rise of the ‘jack or jill of all trades’, particularly in areas such as marketing, where people who can take care of both content and PR are gaining ground.

Many freelance writers are also now working across a spread of media, such as writing content for web pages, magazines, or newspaper articles. Anyone who started in production may also add copy editing, proofreading, and page layout to that list.

6. New Ways to Work Remotely

With the rise and rise of multiple digital devices, apps, and the Internet of Things, there’s so much out there it’s hard to know where to start! As this Forbes article notes, the connected world around us is becoming smarter and smarter.

Specialist freelance insurance and healthcare provision is predicted to be around the corner, making life easier for digital nomads (people who use telecommunications technologies to earn a living, as Wikipedia grandly puts it). People can now work increasingly effectively from flexible and remote locations using wireless internet, smartphones, voice over IP, and cloud-based apps.

In terms of work opportunities, there are a growing numbers of companies, such as CloudPeeps and Help Scout, that specialize in distributed, remote teams – each team member may have a small chunk of work, but the scale of the team means that projects are finished super efficiently.

7. What’s Not So Hot

Unless you’re the cream of the elite, money may be lacking. A survey by Contently found that the median income for full-time freelancers in 2015 was between $20,000 and $30,000, compared to the annual mean wage in the US of $47,230 (and $66,990 for writers and editors, who make up the majority of the freelance market).

As anyone who’s ever visited Upwork will know, for every job advertised there is always someone, somewhere in the world who will do it for cents. This inevitably leads to rates that are pretty well impossible for anyone with bills to pay to compete with (see this previous blog post for some great ideas to attract better clients). However, with all the new types of work mentioned above, there are plenty of intriguing new ways to earn more money.


Staying on top of the world of freelancing can be tough. However, if you have a busy workload, you may miss the exciting developments currently taking place.

In this post, we’ve done some of the hard work to bring you what’s hot and what’s not in the world of freelancing for 2016. While not everything in the freelance world is rosy, there definitely are new trends waiting to be exploited, and the market is developing in all sorts of interesting ways. Let’s recap:

  1. Freelancing is becoming increasingly popular.
  2. Companies are bringing in freelancers as top staff.
  3. Platforms are springing up to connect freelancers with clients.
  4. Programming is still very hot, and writing is a rising trend.
  5. Flexibility is increasingly valued.
  6. There are a multitude of new ways to work remotely.
  7. Money is the key issue.

What do you think the future of freelancing will bring? Let us know in the comments section below!

Photo credit: geralt.

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by Tom Ewer
Tom Ewer and the WordCandy team have clocked some serious mileage as freelancers, agency employees and even agency owners over the years, and they love sharing their combined expertise here on the Bidsketch blog.